What We Need To See When We Look At Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

My TIME.com piece today on the Rolling Stone cover controversy:

Rolling Stone Tsarvaev coverThe knee jerk boycotts in response to this week’s Rolling Stone cover story about Boston Marathon bomber, Dzhokhar ‘Jahar’ Tsarnaev, are helping no one. If we want to break the cycle of mass homicide and terror, we need to face the personal histories of men like the Tsarnaev brothers in all their discomfiting complexity and horror, and this includes not only putting up with attractive photos but also giving more subtle thought to their circumstances. The anguished reaction to the article—”I just want to throw up,” proclaimed conservative commentator Michelle Malkin on Fox News— taps a deep vein of revulsion in American culture toward the possibility that mass murder can in any way be explainable. It feels distasteful and outrageous to seek “answers” to something as awful as mass terror. But to understand the terror is not to forgive or forget it.

When we distance ourselves from our shared humanity and treat mass murderers as removed from our daily lives, we don’t have to examine the more prosaic factors that can contribute to the violence in our midst: bad genes, child neglect, untreated mental illness, too-easy access to assault weapons, political and religious indoctrination, and the like. Of course, the great majority of people in depressing circumstances do not become a mass murderer, but few mass murderers don’t have a laundry list of extenuating circumstances or grievances. We can abhor them, but we can’t completely ignore them.

Some have suggested that the Rolling Stone editors simply wanted to boost sales. This misses the point. The cover photo, a self-portrait that had actually been in circulation for months, strikes a nerve precisely because there was no trick, no deception to either white-wash or glorify the murders. On the contrary, the story was written to reveal, not conceal, the true nightmare of April 15th. Normalcy is part of the story of the Boston Marathon bombers; we can’t run away from that. Dzhokhar was a young man who took pictures of himself, just like millions of teenagers. There was some genuine goodness in Tsarnaev’s heart, according to reasonable people who knew him best, and he experienced pain and trauma in his young life too. Acknowledging these facts doesn’t automatically label a person a love struck ‘fan’ or a disgrace to humanity…

Continued at: http://ideas.time.com/2013/07/18/viewpoint-we-need-to-learn-more-about-young-men-like-the-boston-bomber-not-less/#ixzz2ZPszrRKL

About ErikaChristakis

Yale Lecturer in early childhood education/Licensed teacher/Former preschool director and Harvard College house master/some-time journalist. In possession of: unmarketable bachelor’s degree (Harvard, anthropology), semi-marketable graduate degrees (public health, education…). Rewarding career at the intersection of family, society, and schools (including long stint in parenting vortex). Forging a new path to connect all of the above.
This entry was posted in Children/Teens/Young Adults, Erika @ TIME.com. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to What We Need To See When We Look At Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

  1. shorelineliz says:

    Radical Islam is the core of this young man’s problem and his allahu akbar mother. Just go to youtube and look up Judge Jeanine Piro’s commentary entitled “jihadi Mother” and it tells the whole story. These people come here to “suck the fat off our land” with welfare, the mother driving a Mercedes, a criminal herself, and then the family runs back and forth to the same “dangerous” Chechnya they claimed they needed asylum from? These people are bilking the system and we let them. They are false. We need to stop them from coming into our country. The USA has 742 billion dollars paid out just in food stamps from Department of Agriculture. 1/3 of Americans or 100 million people on Food Stamps. We have numerous people living off the government who come from abroad. Sucking the fat off our land? You bet they are. They are radical Jihadists and “we the people” pay for them to suck the fat off our land every day. That is the problem.

  2. Jim Letts says:

    I don’t think we’re all as dumb as you think we are. Of course the journalist wanted to get to the bottom of what happened to this kid. The ” knee-jerk” reaction is in relation to the potrait used. It is over glamorized, period. I believe your an over educated, obtusely opinionated blogger who needs to drink a tall glass of shut the f*** up.

    • And you have a nice day, too! Here’s my response (from the TIME.com comments section) to those who think the cover photo added nothing to the story and merely glamorized a killer:

      “I disagree that leaving him off the cover would have had no impact on the story. Part of the story — the part that upsets us – is that he was appealing to many people; he took “selfies” of himself like the rest of America’s teenagers; he seemed to have assimilated and appeared to be (indeed, was) the kind of “chill” kid (his friends’ description, not mine) that peers and teachers were drawn to and wanted to help. This is a key part of the story, and one we do need to understand better. Few complained when we put up with Osama bin Laden’s creepy mug on magazine covers for a decade. And it’s a little late at this point in civilization to worry about the contagious effect of media on impressionable minds. That ship has sailed. (I’d love to know where these boycotters come down on regulating ultra-violent media.) What rattles so deeply in this particular case is that Tsarnaev was on one level (obviously not all levels) like a lot of American teenagers. This is a lesson we can’t walk away from and while everyone is free to give Rolling Stone magazine a pass, they shouldn’t assume that there is no meaning to be found (other than a crass bottom line) in publishing that photo on the cover. I think it adds to the story in an important way and that’s what I tried to convey in my post. The photo humanizes Tsarnaev, which is the point. And it’s not the same point as trying to “romanticize” or sympathize with him, as many are claiming. If we pretend murderers are merely boogey men as unrelated to our daily lives as Voldemort or a Cyclops, we don’t have to ask tough questions about why and how people go totally off the rails, become radicalized etc. This is not to excuse but to explain.”

  3. Wellwisher says:

    Erika, if your mother or father was killed or maimed by Tsarnaev, would you still like to undertand him? Favorite liberal pastime, romanticizg the criminal. Oh look, this guy is actually a victim of his environment! Haven’t we heard enough of this nonsense before?

  4. Meg says:

    I agree with your opinion on the Rolling Stones cover, I think if people take more time to understand the history of the people and why they act up the way they do maybe we will have an answer to their behavior. Like you said, this does not mean we are forgiving them for what they did, just understanding what might have gone wrong in their lives. Lovely article, and well explained.

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